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Riding on The Wind

Plug-in hybrids usher a new era for wind power.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

The days of windpower being considered an “alternative” energy are over. Second only to natural gas-fired generation in the category of new installed capacity during each of the last few years, windpower more than ever has become accepted as mainstream generation. Last year, wind power accounted for 35 percent of all new electric generating capacity, and it’s on pace to more than maintain that piece of the resource pie this year.

The transportation sector, meanwhile, is facing major new challenges, with growing oil demand occurring simultaneously with the increasing recognition of the economic, environmental, and national security consequences of U.S. oil dependence. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have been considered an answer to many of these challenges, yet detractors often argue that deployment of such vehicles would simply shift emissions from the transportation sector to the energy sector, given that electric vehicles will need to be connected to the power grid and charged.

But a new intersection between the electricity sector and transportation sector nevertheless is opening up, thanks to the advent of PHEVs. By using the existing infrastructure in the electric industry—which significantly is under-utilized for many periods throughout the year, including at night, when electric loads greatly are reduced compared to daytime loads—the electric industry has a unique and enormous opportunity to power part of the transportation sector as never before.

And as a clean energy source, wind power stands to benefit the most. A major portion of our nation’s energy needs for transportation can be powered with clean, inexhaustible, renewable energy from wind turbines—energy inherently superior to petroleum imports and other forms of electricity production alike in terms of its ability to meet energy-security and environmental challenges.

If they weren’t convinced already, industry observers were reminded in July of wind power’s ability to contribute to the generation mix, when the U.S. Department of Energy released a long-awaited report entitled 20 percent Wind Energy by 2030. 1 The report analyzes one possible future scenario under which wind power can provide a full 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030. The bottom line of the report: 20 percent wind energy penetration technically is feasible, but will require changes to how we operate our electric grid in the United States, as well as overcoming a number of other challenges and barriers.

The benefits of such a scenario include an 11-percent reduction in natural gas use across all sectors and a 25-percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fueled generation. The 20-percent wind scenario is garnering significant attention as the country seeks to reduce emissions associated with burning fossil fuels.

Given increasing examination of dependence on foreign sources of transportation fuel, the arrival of PHEVs in the next few years will allow wind power the opportunity also to supply the energy vehicles need on a daily basis for commuting, household, and business purposes.

Driving Down Emissions

PHEVs—descendants of the first electric vehicles originally developed in the

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